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updated: 5/9/2012 7:43 PM

Protesters seek 'justice' for Harper College wrestler

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  • George Iliopoulos of Addison was one of 70 friends, family members and fellow students who attended the prayer vigil outside the DuPage County courthouse for Harper College wrestler Kerin Ramirez.

       George Iliopoulos of Addison was one of 70 friends, family members and fellow students who attended the prayer vigil outside the DuPage County courthouse for Harper College wrestler Kerin Ramirez.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • Kerin Ramirez

      Kerin Ramirez

  • Nora Ramirez holds up incense during a prayer vigil Wednesday for her son Kerin, accused of breaking into a police officer's house.

       Nora Ramirez holds up incense during a prayer vigil Wednesday for her son Kerin, accused of breaking into a police officer's house.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • About 70 friends, family, and fellow students attended the prayer vigil outside the DuPage County courthouse for Harper College wrestler Kerin Ramirez.

       About 70 friends, family, and fellow students attended the prayer vigil outside the DuPage County courthouse for Harper College wrestler Kerin Ramirez.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

 

Editor's note: This story was updated to correct that Chuck Fossen coached Kerin Ramirez on an Addison youth football team, not wrestling.


He was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. And now, his mother says, he could face 30 years in prison as a result.

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Nora Ramirez was joined by about 70 protesters outside the DuPage County courthouse Wednesday to pray for her son, a Harper College wrestler who they say is being unfairly prosecuted for drunkenly wandering into a police officer's home.

Kerin Ramirez has been in the county jail in lieu of $300,000 bail since his arrest last fall on felony charges of home invasion, burglary and aggravated battery.

Supporters say prosecutors were overzealous in charging Ramirez -- who was unarmed when he was shot by the off-duty officer -- with offenses that could land him in prison for up to 30 years.

They also say Ramirez should be released on a lower bail, comparing his case to that of alleged Trayvon Martin shooter George Zimmerman, who was recently freed from jail.

"In my opinion, the only thing Kerin is guilty of is being El Salvadoran," said Julie Contreras of the League of United Latin American Citizens, which organized Wednesday's vigil. "If he was a criminal, I wouldn't be here today."

In response to the protest, State's Attorney Robert Berlin met with several protesters but said later he has no plans to change course.

Contreras accused prosecutors of trying to "cover up" details of the case by seeking to prevent a jury from hearing about Ramirez being shot and his level of intoxication.

Supporters acknowledge Ramirez struggled with the officer but question the prosecution's position that he tore off his own shirt and attacked the officer without provocation.

"I have three sons, and Kerin is the son that never got into any trouble," Nora Ramirez said as she wiped away tears. "I know my son regrets drinking a first sip of beer that day. He was captain of the wrestling team and had to be responsible for everyone. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Protesters, including Ramirez's youth football coach, wore shirts stating "I Am Kerin Ramirez" and carried crosses bearing the word "justice" as they chanted, sang hymns and prayed.

Berlin flatly denied that any part of the investigation or prosecution was racially motivated.

"The charges against Kerin Ramirez are supported by the evidence presented to the grand jury, and my office stands by those charges," Berlin said. "In every case we handle, charging decisions are based on the evidence, the facts of the case, and the applicable law. Those are the only considerations without any regard to the defendant's race, color, creed, political beliefs or anything like that."

Ramirez, who turned 20 in December, is accused of invading a Wood Dale officer's home about 7 a.m. Sept. 24.

Prosecutors say he was standing next to the officer's 4-year-old son when the off-duty, 14-year police veteran discovered him inside his home near Wheaton.

Refusing to leave, Ramirez attacked the officer and fought with him for an "extended period of time" while the officer's wife called 911, authorities allege.

Soon, a retired police officer who lived next door arrived, and the two police veterans fought with Ramirez for about 10 minutes, according to the allegations.

Prosecutors said the Wood Dale cop eventually retrieved his duty gun and shot Ramirez in the stomach after the defendant knocked him to the ground.

All three men went to the hospital with injuries.

The shooting played out about three hours after Ramirez left a drinking party several doors away. His supporters say he thought he was rejoining the party when he mistakenly entered the officer's home.

"To me, it was a simple trespass, and now it's been blown up into seven felony counts against the kid," said Chuck Fossen, who coached Ramirez on an Addison youth football team. "The door was unlocked. He walked in by mistake."

In a recent court motion, prosecutors have sought to prevent Ramirez from arguing he was too drunk to know what he was doing.

They also have asked a judge to bar the defense at trial from introducing evidence that he was shot.

"Introduction of evidence that the defendant was shot would serve no purpose other than to arise sympathy for the defendant with the jury," prosecutors said in a court filing.

Ramirez's level of intoxication also is irrelevant, they argue, because he was voluntarily under the influence and therefore criminally responsible for his actions.

Ramirez, who has no prior criminal record, is a graduate of Addison Trail High School and was in his second year at Harper, majoring in education at the Palatine school.

Supporters have started a petition drive asking the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the case. Contreras said about 4,500 people have signed petitions or joined a movement at Change.org.

She noted that authorities recently announced no charges would be filed against a West Chicago police officer who opened fire on a car full of unarmed young people. One occupant, a Hispanic teen, was wounded. The officer told investigators he feared for his life as the car bore down on him.

"What we seek is justice -- and the truth," Contreras said. "We do not want the DuPage County law enforcement agents -- who may have an anti-Latino perspective -- to think it's open season for shooting Latinos."

Ramirez returns to court May 17.

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